Review – In Nightmare
The horror genre is a finicky one. When there’s a flaw in a horror game, it stands out like an open wound. If you can’t nail its atmosphere, if you can’t fix its bugs, or if you can’t make it engaging, then you know you’ve created a dud. There is a reason why there are tons of bad horror games some people like to enjoy as “so bad it’s good” titles. Other bad horror games, on the other hand, feel so apathetic it’s not even worth making fun of. That’s the case with In Nightmare.
In Nightmare is one of those games. The dreaded kind of horror game that uses monsters and not-so-subtle imagery to tell a tale about depression. Being a topic that hits home to me, it truly bothers me when I see a developer tackling this kind of subject matter in such a tone deaf kind of way. The fact that a painfully clunky and ungodly boring walking simulator released for the PlayStation Vita managed to tackle this topic in a more realistic and less cartoonish manner is actually baffling, now that I think of it.
Anyway, In Nightmare is about a boy whose family is tearing itself apart. He becomes a shut-in, experiencing many nightmares whenever he sleeps, where past traumas and imagery pertaining to depression turn into monsters which hunt him down in dream-like levels full of puzzles and chase sections to endure. I legit couldn’t find a better verb to describe these sections other than “endure”. While dealing with simplistic key-based puzzles and the occasional clunky platforming section is something I eventually grew used to, dealing with a poor man’s version of Amnesia, where you are constantly being chased by invisible monsters, was not.
There is no subtlety or buildup in In Nightmare‘s level design. Most of the time, you’re exploring linear puzzle sections or dealing with issues caused by the game’s fixed isometric perspective. It’s a pain during platforming sections, as to be expected: camera angles make the act of properly knowing where you can or cannot jump way harder than it should. You are able to detect which areas will feature these horrendous chase sections from a mile away, as they are usually large and full of flickering light bulbs. You are also alerted in advance by a golden butterfly which acts as your Navi-esque companion, as well as being an important element in a few puzzle-solving sections. Nothing out of the ordinary, but one of the best things In Nightmare has to offer.
Chase sections aside, what kills In Nightmare‘s atmosphere is how poor its presentation is. I played a PS5 build of the game, and in no moment did it feel like a PS5 title. Hell, there were moments where the game felt like a late-era PS3 release at best, as it lighting effects were muddy, its textures were subpar, and its framerate struggled to maintain stable numbers. By no means is In Nightmare a visually demanding game, yet its performance managed to stutter like as if I was trying to run Far Cry 6 on my laptop.
Its sound design was pretty mediocre as well, to the point I was almost forgetting to mention its existence in this review. Sadly, that’s all I can say about it as well: it exists. I remember sound coming out from my TV speakers while playing the game, yet I’m unable to remember a single note from its soundtrack.
The worst kind of bad game isn’t the one that is a total and complete train wreck. In Nightmare is the worst kind of bad game. It’s just absolutely uninteresting. Not good enough to be worth tackling, not bad enough to be enjoyed as a “so bad it’s good experience”, but also flawed enough not to be considered just downright mediocre. It’s boring and poorly designed. The way it tackles mental diseases is tone-deaf at best, and its chase sections are some of the clunkiest I have ever seen in a “horror” game. This is a game better left ignored and forgotten. I sure have already done the latter.
The mediocre visuals clash really poorly with the unstable framerate. I will never comprehend why a game with such visuals struggles to maintain a stable framerate on a hardware like the PS5.
The controls aren’t downright bad, but they suffer a bit from the game’s decision on sticking to a fixed isometric perspective. The actual horror sections, on the other hand… those are just plain terrible.
In Nightmare is the kind of game where you know there’s sound coming out of your TV’s speakers, but you are never able to actually remember a single note from it.
Fun Factor: 4.0
It might be initially intriguing from a narrative standpoint, but In Nightmare is equal parts boring and frustrating. There’s very little in this game that motivates you to play it for more than a few minutes at a time. I also hated the way it portrays mental issues.
Final Verdict: 4.5
In Nightmare is available now on PS4 and PS5.
Reviewed on PS5.
A copy of In Nightmare was provided by the publisher.